New podcast series: Clear and Present Danger – A history of free speech


Throughout global history, freedom of speech has played a defining role in allowing human beings to make sense of the world we live in by inquiry and discussion contributing to enormous progress in politics, science and philosophy. Free speech has also been crucial in the struggles for the emancipation and empowerment of minorities, equality of the sexes and liberal democracies’ triumph over dictatorships.

But free speech is under increasing pressure and has been on the retreat steadily over the past decade. In a new podcast series “Clear and Present Danger – A History of Free Speech,” Jacob Mchangama, director of the Danish think tank Justitia, takes listeners on a journey through the history of free speech from The Trial of Socrates to the Great Chinese Firewall:

“Only 13% of the world’s 7.4 billion people enjoy free speech. 45% live in countries where censorship is the norm. Even in 2017 journalists and dissidents risk jail, torture or death in too many countries around the world..

But why have kings, emperors, and governments killed and imprisoned people to shut them up? And why have countless people risked death and imprisonment to express their beliefs?

What is the origin of freedom of expression and how has its role grown and changed in different times and places? And what can people in the digital age learn from past conflicts? These are some of the topics we will be exploring” says Jacob Mchangama, who will be conducting research in at Columbia University’s Global Freedom of Expression Center and FIRE between now and July 2018.

A prologue introducing the background of the podcast series is scheduled for release on January 25th, and the first official episode will be aired on February 1st. Subsequent episodes will be released on a biweekly basis. Each episode focuses on a particular historical era or theme, providing listeners with a deeper understanding of how, where and why free speech has developed over time. The first episode takes listeners back to ancient Athens focusing on the trial of Socrates and the crucial role that equal and uninhibited speech played in the world’s first democracy. The following episodes will visit places and eras such as Ancient Rome, Central Asia’s Golden Age, the Abbasid Caliphate, The Renaissance, Enlightenment and beyond. The podcast will also feature “Expert Opinions”, interviews with leading historians and experts. You can follow the podcast on the website, Facebook and on Twitter (@CAPD_freespeech)

“The goal of the podcast is to try and learn from history,” Mchangama adds. Underlying the series are questions such as ‘Do democratic governments panicking over fake news and populism in the 21st century have anything in common with the Athenians who panicked about threats to their democracy in the 4th century BC? Do modern autocrats still use the same playbook as the emperors, popes, and absolutists of the past? And were religious extremists executing heretics in late antiquity and the middle ages motivated by the same impulses as modern jihadists willing to execute blasphemous cartoonists?’”

The podcast is produced with the support of Foundation of Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), Fritt Ord and Politikens Fond. The podcast is available now on various podcast services including iTunes, Google Play, Soundcloud etc.


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